Looking back on that era following a photo-call on The Discovery yesterday it was all too tempting to look for a note of symbolism in the setting, given what befell the ill-prepared Captain Scott and his men.
Rankin was coach of Caledonia Reds, very much a part-time job when, along with Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders, they took part in the 1996/97 Heineken Cup while Glasgow contested that season's Challenge Cup.
Three Scottish teams accrued a solitary win during that 1996/97 campaign – at home against Llanelli – while conceding 533 points among them in the 12 ties they contested.
By far the most competitive in overall terms – a -39 points differential compared very favourably with the Borders' -98 and Edinburgh's shameful -128 – the Reds' first competitive match outside Scotland took place in Neath where they lost 27-18.
Sixteen years on there is no guarantee of a better result, but little wonder that Rankin believes his men have been given a better chance of success by their preparation this time around as Dundee get set for their first British & Irish Cup tie just a few miles away at Neath.
"The remarkable thing is that we're actually travelling in a far better way than we did when we first went pro," Rankin said yesterday. "We're flying down, staying down the night before and the night after the match, then flying back up the following day. People don't believe me when I say that we got on a coach an hour and a half after we'd played a major game then went charging back up the road with international level athletes needing recovery cramped on buses and nobody would listen to us. However, when we looked at how we were going to travel this time we worked out a budget and knew we had to treat this properly and give the guys the best, professional experience."
In doing so, the club could lean heavily on Rankin's vast knowledge.
During what was more of a revolution than a period of evolution, Rankin became one of the first tranche of full-time Scottish rugby professionals as head coach of Caley Reds then, when four teams were squished into two, the Edinburgh Reivers, a post better suited to Kofi Annan.
The former North & Midlands flanker had more of a reputation for rucking ruthlessness than diplomatic knowhow but learned rapidly, albeit often the hard way.
Reflecting what has been something of a trend in Scottish professional rugby he first fell foul of player power to be shifted from head coach to more of a strategic role as team manager then, just when he seemed to have learned his trade, was summarily sacked from that post.
Since then he has coached and managed the Club International XV, comprising players selected from outwith the full-time professional ranks, as well as guiding Dundee for the past decade.
No-one is better placed to assess where the Scottish game now finds itself and with Gala, Melrose and Stirling County also embarking on British & Irish Cup campaigns this weekend and Edinburgh and Glasgow playing their Heineken Cup openers he believes the right sort of opportunities are now emerging for all concerned.
"We've got to stop having a glass ceiling," he said. "Until the Club Internationals were introduced there was nothing for club players to aspire to apart from getting into their club first XV. That has given something for the very top end of that group, if they train hard and put more work into their strength and conditioning, but the B&I Cup is a target for the whole club."
With Rankin expecting no more than a maximum of one Glasgow Warriors full-timer to supplement his team the domestic structure still needs further tuning. The much trumpeted redraft of professional players for the British & Irish Cup is an irrelevance this weekend because the switch-over from league to cup has not been synchronised with the cross-border competitions. It is a ridiculous blunder by those responsible.
For example Ayr, whose coach Kenny Murray would, Rankin believes, be very keen to reciprocate for the help received last season when Dundee released Richie Hawkins and Alan Brown to help them in their British & Irish Cup campaign, but cannot contemplate doing so as they pursue league points.
However, Rankin believes if such matters are addressed in years to come, with those full-time professionals not required by Edinburgh and Glasgow all being properly distributed among the relevant sides, Dundee and others could take part in the Challenge Cup, the second tier of European competition.
"If we're looking at the overall standard, yes there's Newcastle and teams like that, but there are other teams in that cup that I would have no problem with going up against," he observed. "So if we're being serious about the [Scottish] Premiership as they've rebranded it then the level is always moving forward and we're trying harder to make it worthwhile for the pros when they come back as a stepping stone for the next level so why not."
Right now, though, the challenge of visiting Swansea is more than sufficient to be taking on even if they, like Dundee, have had a tricky start to their season and occupy second bottom of the Welsh Premiership.
"It has been going through my mind with a trip to Wales, the excitement and the enthusiasm of all these years ago with Caley Reds setting off on those Heineken Cup adventures and I have to say I'm still just as excited about going to Wales this weekend," said Rankin.
"In these days you were going into the unknown in many ways and it was exciting, but there was a bit of a fear factor as well. We didn't want to let anyone down though and that's exactly the same for this group of guys."
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